“Being a girl is whatever you decide it is.” I cannot tell you how many times we told our daughter this the first few months of her transition. She dove in head first, and we watched her discard so much of what she had liked before, because at seven that’s what you think you have to do. She wore dresses almost all the time, wouldn’t play video games, or watch her old favorite TV shows. She dove into girly TV shows, and tried to exclusively play with girl toys. She already had an idea of societal expectations of what it meant to be a girl, and even at seven thought she had to adhere to such things. As her parents, it was our job to remind her that she was her own person, and that there was no one way she, or any girl had to be. Slowly, she began to take up some of those things that she had liked before. She got back into sports (is a kick-ass soccer player), and she started to play video games again. She also started wearing what makes her comfortable. She’s active and now eight. She likes dresses, but doesn’t wear them often, because as she puts it, “I like to play hard, and dresses aren’t for doing that.” She’s figured out what being a girl means to her, and as a result has become happier with who she is.
This same dilemma faces anyone going through transition. Yes, I’m female on the inside and always have been, but I also spent over 40 years playing boy, and so figuring out my sense of style, and my projected identity is still something that I needed to do, and to be honest it has happened pretty quickly. I also buck the trend of many trans women I know, and I couldn’t give two shits about what society or even the trans community thinks I should be. It’s my life after all, and for me, being a woman is more than just a dress and makeup. Those are trappings and decoration, and for some they give comfort and solace, but for me they really don’t matter much. Will I wear a dress or use makeup when I do go full-time? Yes, of course I will, but those things don’t define my womanhood. My gender is female, what I wear doesn’t change that, or make it more so.
I get asked all the time, by my therapist, other trans people, family, and friends about my expression. Playing boy most days at work means that most people I know see me in male clothes on a regular basis. This isn’t by choice, but out of necessity, and because I can handle doing this for work. Some feel the need to come out right away and live as their “authentic” selves, which to me feels like a loaded term.
Webster’s defines Authentic as “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” This would suggest that one must prove themselves worthy of being seen as a woman to be treated as such, but who decides what being seen as a woman is? Cis women have argued and fought these definitions for centuries, and so it should not be a surprise that trans women also deal with the struggle to define what womanhood is for them.
Is it the clothes I wear? Use of make-up? Things I like? Thing I don’t like? My ability to pass? All of these things may impact how others view me, but they don’t speak to how I see myself. I accepted I was female before I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I knew it without a doubt, and as a result I started to let some of the shackles I had placed on myself fall to the ground. Still others remain. It is no easy task to shed decades of masking, but acceptance is the first step, and HRT also has helped immensely.
I’ve shared that it was at the three week mark on HRT that something slid home in my brain, and it was like for the first time my brain started working the right way. Something else also happened that week which would help to shift my brain, and it was the realization that my breasts had begun to develop. For me, early on, breast growth fundamentally changed the way I saw myself and how I wanted to interact with the world. It was a confirmation that transition was absolutely the right choice for me, and while it made me a little nervous at first considering how I might hide them, and concerns around work, etc. I was also ecstatic about them, as an obvious sign that my body was definitely responding to HRT, and beginning to feminize in a way I had always wanted.
It wouldn’t be until around four weeks on HRT that I’d start to really think about clothing, and a desire to have clothes for “me.” However, I had to consider what my style was. I also would and still do spend minutes every day staring at my naked body in the mirror. It doesn’t cause me crippling dysphoria, but it does cause me to wince or grimace on the inside. How I present to the world matters to me. Presenting male or female I want to look my best. I still have a body (minus the boobs) that most men over 40 would kill for, and I hate it, but it is the body I have to work with. As a result, dresses and makeup really don’t put it or me in the best light. Putting womanhood aside, I had to ask myself again, who am I?
I am an athletic, outdoorsy, hippie chick. I love to play soccer, specifically goalkeeper, and how many women can say they’ve backpacked over 3,000 miles or happily gone six days without a shower? I love tattoos and want piercings. Give me Chaco sandals in the summer and Dr. Marten boots in the colder months. I love the way my muscular legs look in skinny jeans or shorts. I love tank tops and over-sized sweaters. I don’t wear makeup yet, and may never wear much except for work, as I also love to sweat and workout.
After a long day at work I want to come home, workout, take a hot shower, and put on comfy clothes that I can relax in. I know some girls come home and need to immediately put on a dress and makeup, but that isn’t me. Neither way is wrong, and neither way makes one of us more or less a woman.
I remember reading the book “Tranny” and the chapter where Laura Jane Grace talks about her struggle to get her therapist to write her letter for HRT. She was already dressing full time as a woman, but a woman who was the lead singer of a punk rock band, which meant she favored black skinny jeans and black tank-tops. She had been writing trans-centric lyrics for years, and yet she would return week after week trying to get this male therapist to write her letter, until it dawned on her that he had to see what “he” thought it meant to be a trans woman, and so she returned the next session in full make-up and a dress, and got her letter for HRT. Thanks to the media, cis folk have preconceived notions of what a trans woman is, and even trans people fall into the trap of societal norms and conventions.
I’ve had quite a few girls gush about how exciting it will be for me when I start wearing dresses and make-up. The fact that I can do those things, isn’t what excites me, not even in the least…ok, I admit there might be some fun there, but what excites me is that the wearing of such things will mean my body has feminized to the point that I feel it looks more female than male. What I put on it is secondary to me. What matters most to me is how I see myself. I am my own worst critic, and that knowledge scares me at times.
Most people who know me as Allie, know me for my positive attitude, and my sense of humor over the whole transition experience. However, like any girl, there is that side to me that I hide from most, because I think people don’t want to see that side of me. I have moments every day where I hate myself, and I hate being trans all the time. That hate never goes away, and I don’t know if it ever will. I have fears that my body will never pass, and that even with facial feminization surgery (FFS) that I will never be seen as the gender I am. That fear kept me from accepting myself for the past decade, and while I am happy I finally pushed past it, being me is anything but sunshine and rainbows.
All of the above said, I would never go back, HRT has brought color to my life, and I have hope for the future. Most of the time I have hope that I will pass, and that I will get to do those things I’ve dreamed of doing out in the open as a woman. Many of them are simple things, little things that will give me the validation I want, and they may not seem exclusively female, but much of what we like in the world rarely is gender specific.
I look forward to playing soccer on a women’s team, and building camaraderie with female teammates for the first time in my life. I look forward to returning to the yoga studio as myself. I look forward to weight training again and rebuilding my body the way I want it. I look forward to going shopping with girlfriends, or just out for dinner and getting ma’amed instead of sirred. I look forward to not having to shave every day, and especially a stubble free face. I look forward to more piercings, painting my fingernails, and yes I do look forward to being able to wear skirts and dresses, along with pretty underthings that look right on my body.
I look forward to FFS and gender confirmation surgery (GCS). Not all girls get these things or feel that they need them, and you certainly do not need a vagina to be female. However, my physical appearance (what I see when I stand in front of the mirror naked) is vital to my feeling complete, and the confidence that will come with feeling complete will mean so much to how I interact with the world. For me, the end result cannot come fast enough.
However, even without all of the above, I am still female, a girl, a woman. Most of the above are simply modes of expression, and so often we all get caught up in blending gender with expression, when the two are not the same. We need to start asking ourselves why is it so important to us that men and women fit certain societal conventions of how they are supposed to express. Why does it matter and who does it hurt if someone acts outside of those conventional expectations? We all have one life to live, mine is already almost half over, and I have yet to really start living as myself. I have no energy left to really care what people think anymore, and within the next few months I’m going to begin pushing the boundaries of people’s expectations. I may keep presenting male at work, but get both ears pierced and cover/feminize old tattoos. After all, these are little things that will make me happy and feel more myself. In the end, like I still tell my daughter…being a girl is whatever I decide it is, and maybe it’s time I start “being” just a little bit more.